Electoral Registration: Non-UK EU Citizens

Oral Answers to Questions — Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 5th June 2019.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

What estimate he has made of the number of non-UK EU citizens living in the UK who were unable to register to vote in the European parliamentary elections.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

What estimate he has made of the number of non-UK EU citizens living in the UK who were unable to register to vote in the European parliamentary elections.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

What estimate he has made of the number of non-UK EU citizens living in the UK who were unable to register to vote in the European parliamentary elections.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

The Cabinet Office does not collect or hold information on the number of eligible electors who do not register to vote in any election. The process for EU nationals to register and declare their intention to vote in the UK for these elections was similar to the system used in previous European parliamentary elections.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport)

Many of my constituents were denied a vote in the EU elections. Following yesterday’s urgent question, it is clear that the Government failed to implement the recommendations of the 2014 Electoral Commission review, failed to follow EU law, failed to try to extend the deadline for submitting the UC1 form and failed to uphold the human rights of EU residents in the UK. Was that simply Government incompetence, or did they deliberately deny EU citizens the right to vote?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am very clear that the Government followed our legal obligations, and on 5 April the Electoral Commission published guidance for electoral registration officers, reminding them to prepare and issue UC1 forms to EU citizens on the register. Again, I reject this; and, again, the system was similar to what we have had in previous European Union elections.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

On 23 May, my constituents Joanna Pardoe, Lues Huesca Molina, Paloma Luna, Peter Tait, Pierro Izzolino, Cristiana Bottigella, Sophie Beswick, Yaiza Rivero and dozens more were denied a vote in the EU elections. Yesterday, the Minister failed to apologise to them and the hundreds of other EU citizens who were unable to exercise their democratic right because of the impossible timetable set for Lewisham electoral services by this Government. Will he apologise today?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I am afraid the timetable is exactly the same legal timetable there has been for previous European parliamentary elections and, ultimately, ensuring compliance with it is the job of the local ERO.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

Two campaign groups, the3million and British in Europe, have raised more than £40 million to fund a legal challenge to the parliamentary election process. What assessment have the Government made of whether they took the necessary steps at the European elections to uphold article 3 of protocol 1 of the European convention on human rights, which protects our right to vote?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

As said previously, the Government complied with all legal obligations and followed an almost identical process to what happened for previous European parliamentary elections. The requirement to make this declaration is part of European law, and we have to share such declarations before polling day. Again, while people may not like the outcome of those elections, I suggest they are better engaging with what voters said than trying to argue the process.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Will the Minister confirm that the UC1 form is not some arbitrary requirement, as has been suggested, but a core requirement of European law that is required of all European member states and has not been changed since previous elections?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is right to say that this is a requirement that applied in 2009 and 2014, and there is a requirement under European law for us to have a declaration supplied to other member states about their citizens voting in this country to prevent double voting. It is interesting that those who are usually great fans of following European law did not want to follow this particular piece of it.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

Yesterday, the Minister told me that he had received official advice that it would not be possible to bring forward a statutory instrument in advance of the European elections to allow more time for EU citizens to declare their intention on where they wished to vote and that that would not be possible because it would contravene European law. How can that be the case given that other European countries do it differently and that EU law sets no time requirements for registration, and will he publish the advice that he received?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

EU law makes it clear that we have to supply details of the declarations sufficiently before polling day, which rather conflicts with the Scottish National party idea, suggested a couple of weeks ago, that we could fill in declarations at the polling station. Quite clearly, something cannot be done before polling day if the information is collected on polling day. We were clear that, with the timescales, we followed the legal process that was there from previous European parliamentary elections and complied with all our legal obligations.

Photo of Cat Smith Cat Smith Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement and Youth Affairs

On this matter, the Minister appears to be taking his cue from Shaggy, protesting, “It Wasn’t Me”. Six times yesterday, he refused to apologise to these EU citizens who have been disenfranchised. Can I suggest that he change the record and perhaps take his cue from Timbaland, and “Apologize”—apologise to those European citizens who have every right to vote in these elections, but were turned away on polling day?

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office

It does seem like a bit of a broken record from the Labour party, and not an acceptance that this is exactly the same process EU citizens had to follow to vote in European parliamentary elections while the Labour party were in government. The best assessment will be the one done by the Electoral Commission, which will do so independently, following a statutory duty to review major polling events.